Scientific research has finally caught up with the lifework of my family. For three generations, we have been exploring, questioning, experimenting, passing along our findings from parent to child. We are not neuroscientists or psychologists, like those who have come after us. We are simply…nappers. A nap, where I come from, is sacred.
Sometimes, after large and indulgent family meals, we nap communally, sharing sofas head to foot, curled in chairs and sprawled, beside the dog and one another, on the floor. We firmly believe that no gathering can be deemed a success unless it culminates in every single person falling asleep in the living room.
Mostly, however, we understand the nap to be an endeavor embarked on alone, though often recounted later in every detail, like a Homeric epic tale, to eager listeners. My mother calls to tell me how pretty the light looked through the curtains when she came home from work. Of course, she had to sink into the couch and take a nap. My brother describes a snooze in his red chair with a book and Chester the cat. In the way that some people never suffer from a cold but always have a “terrible” cold, in the way that rain in California is never rain but “torrential” rain, naps for my family are never naps but “delicious” naps.
Oddly, the new scientific nap studies do not mention “delicious” naps. Their focus is on the practical use of these short bouts of sleep and the benefits they bestow on us, as if they were fiber-rich food. Scientists have found that naps make us more alert and more creative, improve our mood, and increase our productivity. Matthew Walker, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “You need to sleep before learning, to prepare your brain, like a dry sponge, to absorb new information.”
Although my brain often feels like a dry sponge, the one you find under the kitchen sink, way back next to the jar of desiccated silver polish, I cannot endorse this utilitarian interpretation of the nap.